SHREK THE MUSICAL
BY Gary Murray
Starring Eric Petersen, Haven Burton, Alan Mingo, Jr. and David F.M. Vaughn
Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Based on the Dreamworks Feature
Shrek, the Dreamworks picture, was both a charming fantasy tale and a not so subtle dig at Disney and Michael E, the CEO at the time. The tale of the ogre called upon to save his swamp from fairy tale creatures by rescuing a princess was the right blend of magic and mayhem Since Disney has been making a ton of money and winning awards by turning their products into plays (Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King) it would make sense that Dreamworks would follow suit. Their first is Shrek: The Musical now playing at the State Fair of Texas in the Fair Park Music Hall.
The play starts in a forest twenty years ago. Young Shrek is thrown out of his home in "Big Bright Beautiful World" a funny yet cruel set-up to the mind set of our Ogre. We are also introduced to a young Princess Fiona, sent to live in the highest room of the tallest tower of a castle waiting for her true love to rescue her. They are cleaver and dark moments.
Then we forward to today and Shrek (Eric Petersen) sings the "Story of My Life" were we get his world view in song. Soon we meet all the fairy tale creatures who are sent to live in Shrek's swamp. Since Shrek just wants to be left alone, he takes on the mission of getting Lord Farquaad to get them all of his land. Almost immediately, he gets lost and found by Donkey ( Alan Mingo, Jr) a simple creature who is not afraid of the big green guy. They sing "Don't Let Me Go" with gusto. On the other side of the plot, three different aged Fionas sing "Forever" which is how long she has been waiting to be rescued. It is the big, charming moment of Act I.
"Welcome to Duloc" comes from the movie, lifted word for word and note for note but with a more Broadway relish to the festivities. On stage comes Lord Farquaad (David F.M. Vaughn), all Prince Valiant with the hair and Prince the singer in stature. His smallness is done with fake legs and the actor on his knees. It must be brutal on the body to do this role but all the laughs must be a consolidation. He is vain and cruel to a comic degree.
All of our actors are in place as the plot goes into motion and the duo of Shrek and Donkey go to the castle and rescue the princess. First, they must get around the dragon. A chorus of knights warn our Donkey about 'Her'–the dragon. Done with a giant puppet and a backstage voice, we get the biggest number of the work where the dragon laments about life. The voice just fills the rafters as the cloth and fiberglass beast commands the stage.
The Second Act starts with "Morning Person" and Fiona and a company of rats doing their best Bob Fosse. A charming number that shows the dancing ability of almost the entire secondary cast. Then comes "I Think I Got You Beat" a parallel of a classic Broadway conceit were our two leads by showing their differences eventually prove that they are much closer than either one wants to admit. The number is a literal gas.
Eventually we get to all the reveals, where the cast expresses their true feelings and intentions. The idea of what makes us special makes us strong is pushed to the limit with "Freak Flag" a song that can be taken on many different levels. The play eventually turns into high melodrama, with the audience yelling and booing the bad guy. The kids in attendance seems to be having the time of their lives reacting to the antics on stage. By the time we get to the close of the old Monkee's song "I'm a Believer" the entire audience is on their feet.
The dialogue follows the original movie, at times word for word. We also get little cleaver moments where Donkey and Shrek play "Bunch Buggy" to a silly degree. Book and lyrics creator David Lindsay-Abaire keep all the little elements that made the film a classic while clearing up some of the little inconsistent in the original plot.
The Dragon effect, with masked puppeteers is an amazing feat of skill and art. Our Gingerbread Man is also done as a puppet, first on a wall, then on a pan. Even though we see the manipulations, it still works magic. Pinocchio's nose does grow with a fun, slight effect. Puss'n Boots does appear but never steals the show like he does in the movies. Here he is just a background puppet.
The cast is just brilliant. David F.M. Vaughn just steals every moment he's on stage as Lord Farquaad. The costume effect to make him look small is milked over and over but never gets tired. He is a part of two show stopping moments and does his best to get reactions from the crowd. The number "What's up, Duloc?" showcases everything that is right about the production.
Alan Mingo, Jr is the other scene stealer. As Donkey, he gets the best lines and does the most when them. Finding ways to top the voice performance of Eddie Murphy he still gives the role his own nuances. With hoofs for hands, he is limited to the ways he can express his character but he does give the audience a winning reading.
Haven Burton has a thankless role as Fiona. She has a charming voice and winning personality. Unfortunately the world of Shrek is much more a male dominated experience and the women are secondary in the cast. There needed to be more moments to showcase both her and the role.
Eric Petersen as Shrek is the hardest role. Under all the make-up he has to give a variety of emotions while dancing and singing. He does the role with such and ease and grace that one forgets just how hard his task is on the stage. Even under all the Latex, he still can convey strong emotions.
Perhaps the biggest find is little Madison Mullahey as young Fiona. She gets a few moments here and there to show off some major vocals. This is a voice that should be heard on Broadway stages for years to come.
Shrek is just a fun and magical night at the theater, a delight for children of all ages. It has all the elements to entertain and does so to a degree seldom seen on the Fair Park stage. It is a perfect match for the Midway fun at the State Fair and shouldn't be missed.
Shrek The Musical plays at the Music Hall at Fair Park as part of the State Fair of Texas Sept. 28 to Oct. 17